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Happy 55th Birthday Mr Spike Lee! Reminisce With Us…

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 20, 2012 10:06 AM
19 Comments
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Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee, born March 20, 1957, turns 55 years old today! Wow! Time sure does fly, doesn't it?

For some reason, he still feels 40-something to me. I had to pause for a minute to think about the fact that he'll be 60 years old in a matter of 5 years. Or maybe it just reminds me that I am aging as well - we all are - and I'd prefer to think that the years aren't moving along as briskly.

But they are; so, as the saying goes, carpe diem, or seize the day! 

Back to Spike... long time readers of this website will know just how much the man's name has been mentioned by just about all of us, both critically, and in adulation; you'll find a good mix of commentary. He has been, after all, the most prominent black filmmaker since he burst onto the scene in the mid 1980s, and he's still around, cranking out a film about once every 2 to 3 years or so, on average; you can't really talk about black cinema today and not mention one Spike Lee.

And to celebrate his 55th birthday, let's reminisce... your favorite Spike Lee moments... notice I didn't ask specifically for your favorite Spike Lee films, rather those moments in which he roused, stirred you emotionally, agitated, titillated, awakened, incensed, humored, sensitize, etc, etc, etc... moments when he made you laugh, cry, angry, sad, and more.

These moments could be from scenes in his films (or entire films), films he's produced, interviews he's done, books he's written, speeches/talks given, commercials he's directed or starred in, and whatever else you can remember.

I think most would probably list Do The Right Thing as their favorite Spike Lee movie, but, I'll actually go against the tide here and choose Bamboozled instead. It was Spike's most scathing critique and an ambitious satire on race and the power of media, shot mostly on what was then a burgeoning technology that certainly wasn't as widely used and embraced as it is today - digital video.

I'd say it wasn't a coincidence that the film was released in the year 2000 - as a kind of call to action at the beginning of the new millennium. Yes, it's a little longer than I think it should have been to be just as effective, and Spike doesn't end it as efficiently as it begins, but I greatly appreciated the films overall potency. It worked for me, even though it was savaged by many critics, including Ebert and Roeper on their nationally televised film review program, which surprised me that these 2 top movie critics were so short-sighted as to miss the broader message behind Spike's overtly satirical film. They practically dismissed it, which was unfortunate. I wonder if Ebert still feels that same about it today... But chime in with your own favorite Spike Lee moments. 

Here's a flashback:

;

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19 Comments

  • Andre Robinson | March 21, 2012 10:35 PMReply

    My favorite Spike Lee moment was arguing with my grandmother after taking her to see Do The Right Thing. She refused to have any empathy for the death of Radio Rahim and only defended the store owner's right to have the music turned off in his place if that's the way he wanted it...
    "What's the matter boss...we sick?"

  • STARS | March 21, 2012 5:56 PMReply

    I remember when this movie came out. I went to see and I cried like a baby because it hurt so much to realize what those images had done to the black community.

  • Cathy | March 21, 2012 1:28 PMReply

    I enjoyed all of Spikes Movies. Happy Bithday Spike!

  • Tami | March 20, 2012 11:01 PMReply

    My favorite moment. There are two.
    1) Mo better Blues - when Bleek is trying to play and can't finish. That walk off stage was so embarrassing and heart breaking and sad. I always cry at this part. It's such a full moment. When Spike yells "you'll play again Bleek! You'll play again!" You just hope he does.

    2) She's Gotta Have It - Nola all alone in her room. All of her lovers gone. No one to love but herself.

  • Maria Miller | March 20, 2012 10:30 PMReply

    My favorite memories of Spike is when he had his store on Dekalb Ave in Brooklyn. Every year they had a block party in front of the store and I use to go and hang out with Earl Smith and the gang** Miss you Spike Lee Joint** My favorite movie of all the movies is "Mo' Better Blues".

  • Masha Dowell | March 20, 2012 10:15 PMReply

    Okay for me it has to be school daze --- for some reason I deeply remember Tisha Campbell's role :/ Then I have to say Mo Better Blue's --- I remember Denzel's presence was unreal. I was inspired by his acting ability!!!

  • terrihd | March 20, 2012 4:44 PMReply

    What matters most to me is that "She's Gotta Have It" was the first date for hubs and me. It had just come out a couple of weeks before we met, in the late summer of '86. Have seen many of Spike's films since but the first will always be the most special for me.

  • LeonRaymond | March 20, 2012 4:29 PMReply

    Spike will all ways have a very special place in my heart, as to me he was the starter for Black film for so many of us. He has earned respect to me from me. I don't have a bad Spike film cause of it I can say I have a bad Oliver Stone film or a bad etc. but Spike he seemed to make the films just for me and I loved being in a theater to see a Spike Lee film. The order means nothing I loved them all


    1. The Women's War Council scene in Jungle Fever

    2. Ed Nortons scene in 25th Hour as well as Phillip Seymour Hoffman's many

    3. Bugging out in Do the right thing

    4. Denzel and Jodie Foster's scene in Inside Man cause he nailed her character cause she truly is a pain in the ass

    5. The final scene in He got game

    6. Denzel's scene when the two women walked in the club wearing the same dress in Mo Better

    7.Malcom x-( too many to name )

    8. She hate me (loved the casting)

    9. Girl Six -The throw back scenes of the Blax exploitation era and the lead actress pure beauty on screen

    10 School daze the first few scenes

    I could go on but he did the damn thing. He is just right up there with so many awesome filmmakers I love. Don't stop Spike, Don't listen to the haters, Woody Allen even had a dead period and now they are set to give him the world again!!!

  • Pete Chatmon | March 20, 2012 3:51 PMReply

    I literally JUST walked by Spike in the hallway. I'd have said happy birthday if I had checked S&A earlier. I definitely got interested in film because of Spike...Malcolm X is definitively his best work, in my opinion...

  • Neziah | March 20, 2012 3:34 PMReply

    One of the greats, for sure. "Clockers" will forever be his seminal masterpiece that very few people have seen compared to his other works. Something fascinating about his work overall is that all of his films work on a secondary level, which even makes some of his worst efforts like "She Hate Me" and "Girl 6" enjoyable despite their flaws. There are too many memorable moments throughout his films to list them all. The entire last half-hour of "He Got Game" is one of the very best finales in movie history, IMO, all leading up to the haunting final shot, which I'm sure was tricky to pull off. The "Clockers" interrogation scene is up there with the best scenes in Scorsese films, IMO. Hell, every scene of that film demands the viewer's attention because it's so expertly crafted from beginning to end. Malcolm X is full of amazing scenes, including Denzel's badass scenes as Detroit Red, which destroy all of his scenes in "Training Day" in my book. He's simply a great filmmaker. I don't give a damn about what he does or says in public, I only pay attention to his films, which everyone (black or white) should do as well.

  • CareyCarey | March 20, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    Well Tambay, you asked for it, so here's one of my memories. I've said this before so fill in the "blanks" and... well, you'll figure it out. Okay, it goes without question that Spike Lee is my guy. I’ve never met him, but the following story is my detailed account of how I’ve been trying to rectify that problem and why I believe our visit is right around the corner.
    I’ve been riding with Spike Lee since his 1986 breakout movie She’s Gotta Have It. Back then, aside from a few movies starring Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Richard Pryor, I can’t remember if a movie featured a black cast or if the directors were black. Well, there were movies like Super Fly, Shaft, Cotton Comes To Harlem, and those black exploitation movie, but Spike‘s narrative and direction was a new day. Before Spike Lee’s arrival, many black faces in cinema were reduced to caricatures which displayed people of color in a negative light. We took it all with a kind of astringent good humor, refusing at times, even to consider defending those false images, because, for the most part, we didn’t have enough resources/avenues to do that. However, as time has gone by, much has been written about race and racism. I personally feel that it will demand a far less guilty and constricted people than the present-day American to be able to assess it all; it’s importance to the survival of our society, however, I can safely assume that others, albeit begrudgingly, need to hear the narratives/voices from people of colors. Anyway, before I get too far off the core of this post, in short, I believe Spike Lee was a fresh new voice of black consciousness. And, I’ve been following him every since he hit the block. So, a few weeks ago I was tickle pink (dark brown) when an acquaintance (Sergio Mims, a writer for Ebony magazine) informed the blogsphere that Spike Lee was going to be in Chicago, promoting his new book Do The Right Thing. The book is celebrating just more than 20 years since the seminal debut of the movie by the same name. Okay, now it was my time to met Spike and get an autographed book to boot. However, two days before the scheduled day of the event, I had reservation on a flight to Atlanta. I caught my flight but all goodbyes were not gone. I have a cousin that lives in Chicago - on South Lake Shore Drive - that let me convince her to stand - tall and proud - in my place. I got my autograph “to Carey, my greatest fan in Iowa”, but I didn’t get a chance to meet Spike. But wait, remember my friend Sergio Mims, he again informed the blogsphere, through one of my favorite blogspots, Shadow and Act http://www.shadowandact.com/, that spike had booked a return engagement in Naperville, a suburb outside Chicago. Spike is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a Martin Luther King celebration. Oh boy, here we go again. I have another cousin - a niece - that lives right in Naperville. So, upon hearing that great news, I scurried to the phone to apply for my hookup tickets. I also contacted Sergio, who lives in Chicago, to see if he’d like to join me. At first he said it was too far for him to drive waaaaay out to Naperville, but if I came to pick him up, he’d be glad to ride along. Now I’m thinking, I would have to drive 200 miles to attend this event and he lives a stones throw away, but I said okay. You know, " a journey shared with another, is more deeply moving an experience than a journey taken alone" Now... the tickets. Well, you know how it is when a friend or family member says they have you covered, and then, they don’t. Yep, things got a little shaky. However, after I informed Sergio of our quandary, he went to work. He told me that he might be able to get a couple of press passes. I forgot Sergio was the man who probably was on the A-list of writers in Chicago, so I was thrilled when I heard that great news. Now we’re set to go, but wait, Sergio hit me with another e-mail... "Well [Carey]I've got good news and bad news. I just got a call from them. They gave me a ticket for the Lee event. That's it's ONE ticket. I couldn't get another one, O.K. but we're still going together right?". I started to call him back and tell him, HELL NO, there’s no way I was going to let him in my car - wearing a tuxedo - smiling, as he waved his front row pass in my face. But like a true trooper “the show must go on”... I wavered and said, yes, we’re still going together. So it's on, the two of us are off to see Spike Lee. I finally managed to get a ticket in the nose bleed section. But see, Sergio doesn't know this (unless he reads this post) but I am planning on getting a big ass camera and pretend I am his camera man or personal assistant. Yes sir, it's my plan to buy a fake, but great looking press pass, and strut to the front, like I am somebody. And then, when the evening progresses to the Q&A portion of the program, I’m going to drop that camera, jump to my feet, frantically wave my hands in the air and say "Right over here Mr. Spike Lee, I have a question for you" . Hopefully he will say "Yes, Mr. CareyCarey, what can I do for you"? Then I’ll say, "Nothing, I just wanted to tell everyone who will listen, that I met you". The END.

  • BONO | March 20, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    For a moment it seemed many more would follow. Turns out there would be only one Mister Lee!

  • writer | March 20, 2012 1:46 PMReply

    So many favorite moments.

    I get angry when I think about what is going on with black cinema in America today. Who else is going to be able to build a body of work like Spike's? And I'm not talking about just cracking out movies. I'm talking about films. Art. Something that when you watch it 20 years later it moves you, gives you some food for thought, or you can just appreciate the care and the craft that went into it.

    On of my favorite moments is the Summer of Sam scene when John and Mira are dancing in the club. That movie is not perfect (the soundtrack is though) but man, Spike really nailed the era and the mood of the that summer.

    When the Levees Broke. No Words. A masterpiece.

  • Ash | March 20, 2012 2:59 PM

    Good post. We have several movies these days, but no films.

  • Donella | March 20, 2012 11:24 AMReply

    When the Levees Broke. Hurricane Katrina was a heartbreaking episode in modern North American history. Spike Lee stepped aside and allowed the residents and public policy players to air their views on what happened, why, and how. Lee showed that he cared about the people via a powerful film in a way that no one else has matched. The followup, If God is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise, allowed the participants of the previous film to document their lives five years later. Film is a form of media with far-reaching power and I believe Lee used his power wisely with these projects.

  • Ash | March 20, 2012 11:10 AMReply

    I still think the crack house scene in Jungle Fever is the best he's ever directed. Truly haunting. I also reckon Miracle At St. Anna is a great film, criminally underrated. Other highlights include the photo montage of Brooklyn at the start of She's Gotta Have It, the dispatching of republican Wendell Pierce in Get On The Bus, and the opening credits of Clockers, with the beautiful Marc Dorsey song 'People In Search Of A Life'

    One of the greatest filmmakers of his generation.

    I hope nobody minds if I post this here; an analysis of the clothes, costumes and style in Do The Right Thing: http://clothesonfilm.com/style-identity-in-do-the-right-thing/24545/

  • Ash | March 20, 2012 2:55 PM

    Hey, there can only be one Ash ;)!

  • mr dobie | March 20, 2012 10:52 AMReply

    So many moments from Spike's great film career: the swoop into Radio Raheem's boom box as he and Buggin Out stand/pose at night on the street, Flipper's wife and other black women chatting about interracial relationships in Jungle Fever, the dolly + actor shot of Malcolm X on the day of his death, the dolly + actor shot of Philip Seymour Hoffman as he leaves bathroom after kissing his student in 25th Hour, Theresa Randle's red and black ensemble when she has 1st interview at phone sex business in Girl 6, Wesley Snipes office chats with Anabella Sciorra in Jungle Fever, Ernest Dickerson's photography in Do The Right Thing, Denzel Wshington jousting with Rosario Dawson on the street in He Got Game before he knocks out her 'boyfriend', Rodrigo Prieto's photography from 25th Hour, Mars Blackmon's bike ride entrance in She's GHI, Sweet Dick Willie telling Buggin Out he should boycott the barber who 'fucked up your head' in Do The Right Thing, the good and bad hair musical sequence from School Daze, the look of the colour blue for Edward Norton in the big final club scene in 25th Hour, Denzel's intro of his band near the start of Mo Better Blues etc etc etc. So many others I could add.

  • FilmGuy | March 20, 2012 10:23 AMReply

    1) Gator's Last Dance - Jungle Fever
    2) Malcolm X and the old lady before his speech -Malcolm X
    3) When Bleek got his lip busted - Mo' Betta Blues
    4) Ray Allen/Denzel one-on-scene - He Got Game
    5) Ed Norton's bathroom rant - 25th hour

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